The company behind some of Australia’s most beloved music festivals, tours and venues has officially branched out into an industry that goes hand in hand with events: alcohol.
Untitled Group, via its creative, marketing and ventures studio Underscore, has today unveiled its latest joint venture called Ugly.
The vodka brand, brewed in partnership with Melbourne liquor company 80Proof, takes ‘ugly’ apples that would have been rejected by supermarkets and therefore destined for landfill, and turns them into the popular spirit.
While good for the planet and customers’ consciences (though perhaps not their heads come Sunday morning), the new brand also indicates Untitled’s bullish approach to becoming a diversified events and ventures company.
Founded in 2017 by the winners of the 2022 Australian Young Entrepreneur Arts & Culture Award Nicholas Greco, Michael Christidis, Christian Serrao and Filippo Palermo, Untitled Group operates a music festival empire and puts on gatherings such as Beyond The Valley, Pitch and Ability Festival.
The company also has its own ventures arm called Underscore, co-founded by Untitled and creative marketing whizz Matt Gardener, which was behind the rebrand of venture capital firm Blackbird.
According to co-founder Christidis, it’s no secret that punters at these events enjoy an alcoholic drink or two, which is where Ugly hopes to eventually fit in.
However, the impetus to create Ugly came from one of 80Proof’s co-founders Jess Conti, who grew up in the Goulburn Valley and saw first-hand the amount of food waste created by rejected product deemed unfit for supermarket shelves.
“It kind of started off as a bit of a joke about making alcohol from all the food waste,” Christidis told Business News Australia.
“But it wasn’t until he started really looking into the production methods and whether it was viable that he figured out that because of the fructose levels in apples that you can actually get a decent yield of vodka from all of these fruits that would otherwise be thrown away.”
80Proof co-founder Danny Grant added that up to 40 per cent of the fruit on the farms that he visited was deemed unsellable solely due to aesthetics.
“There has been plenty of trial and error as no one has tried making traditional vodka from Australian ugly apples before. The starch extracted from apples is akin to potatoes in regular vodka," Grant said.
"And thankfully for our soon-to-be customers, it’s not to the detriment of the quality of taste, it’s still a premium, delicious tasting product."
So the product was possible. However, according to Christidis, Conti realised that he needed the cultural capital of Untitled to really build a brand that would appeal to the company’s young, Australian demographic.
“Australia produces so many local beers and wines, but when it comes down to spirits we’re consuming mostly international stuff - Grey Goose, Belvedere, Smirnoff,” Christidis said.
"80Proof saw Untitled as the perfect partner not only due to the volume of vodka our 400,000-plus patrons drink throughout the year across our events, but the unique connection to youth culture Untitled holds through these sought after festivals and events.
"Together we think we make the perfect partnership to set up Ugly to succeed."
The co-founder also stressed that the cost of making this sustainable shift for its vodka drinks won’t be passed onto the consumer.
“We’re not charging extra - it’s business as usual. Your drink gets poured behind the bar, the price is the same, everything’s the same,” he said.
“It’s a seamless shift from one product to another that creates a better outcome - just that now the farmers are benefitting and the planet is benefitting.
Christidis explained that Untitled had already seen this ‘seamless shift’ in action once before when the company established Ability Fest with current Australian of the Year Dylan Alcott - Australia’s first fully accessible music festival.
“We saw that there, where we weren’t asking people to just come and donate to a charity, we saw them come to an event to enjoy Australia’s first fully accessible festival where you just enjoy music, just like any other event, but all the proceeds go to young, disabled Australians” he said.
“We’re not asking attendees to do anything different - come party, come enjoy your day - but the proceeds go to a good outcome.
“I think it’s those types of actions and integrations that I like to try and find, and hopefully will continue to do with the products and services.”
The co-founders added that Ugly is looking like it will be carbon-negative as well across the entire production process.
Ugly will launch initially with just one drink - a bottle of vodka - but Christidis said Untitled, Underscore and 80Proof were exploring other drinks that could be made form ugly fruit.
“We’re currently exploring using ugly fruit as well in the flavourings as well,” he sad.
“Obviously it’s scale that’s really going to help this -the more products that we sell, the more we’re able to save from landfill.
“A lot of people say when we mention the idea ‘are there enough apples to keep up with demand?’ But let’s just say that we’re not going to run out of apples.”